NEW: ROY HODGSON INTERVIEW!
Roy Hodgson is the England manager. He has also managed Switzerland, the UAE, and Finland, as well as coaching club sides in Sweden, England, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, and Norway. As a player, he was released by Crystal Palace without making a league appearance; he then became a teacher in South London before starting a full-time coaching career. Here, he talks about those early years in Sweden, life on the road, and why he wouldn’t swap places with Sir Alex Ferguson…
I never wanted to be a teacher. The only reason I went into teaching was because it was the closest thing I could get to football coaching. My first teaching job lasted three months, and then I went off to play football in South Africa (for Berea Park in the National Football League).
When I came back to England, I had to work for another year as a teacher, until another coaching job came up. But teaching (as a long-term career) never entered my thoughts. In fact, in my first teaching job in Dulwich, all I ever did was coach football. I coached it from 9 o’clock in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. I never stepped foot in a classroom or gymnasium.
To become a full-time coach, moving abroad was the only option at the time. I didn’t have a playing career to make my name well-known. Funnily enough, it’s easier these days for people who haven’t had great (playing) careers to get jobs in football. Look at some of the top coaches in the Premier League – they didn’t have great playing careers. But that wasn’t the case in 1976. There were very, very few people who got a (coaching) job unless they were almost household names. So I think at that stage, certainly in my development, going abroad was the only possibility.
I was lucky that Bob Houghton, my good friend, was a forerunner. He’d gone to Sweden two years before and had enormous success. As a result, he opened the door for someone like me, because when Halmstad were looking for a coach, they were very, very impressed by Bob Houghton. They would have taken him the next day, if they’d been able to prise him away from Malmo. But of course they couldn’t. (Houghton had huge success in Sweden, and went on to manage China, India, and Uzbekistan, among others.)
Luckily for me, Halmstad courted Bob’s opinion. They said: “Look, you’ve done very well, you’re young, you’re not the sort of person the (English) FA normally sends when we ask for a coach – do you know anybody else?” And he said: “I know a feller I think is very good – and who you’ll like.”
I suppose it was a big leap, especially with a young family – our son was only four years old at the time. But I don’t know that I thought about the pitfalls – I was just so excited about the prospect of being able to coach a team in the Swedish top division. To work with players on a daily basis – albeit in evening sessions, as the players weren’t full-time – was exciting. I think I tended to be nonchalant about the other factors. I just expected my wife and son to adapt to me, rather than me adapt to them.
The previous season, Halmstad had survived relegation on goal difference. We then lost six senior players from the first team, and signed one. Therefore we started the season with the previous year’s reserve team, plus one player from the Swedish third division. I know there was a poll among the newspapers before the season started, about 15 papers, and each one had Halmstad bottom.
To take that on, and end up champions by five points – in a two points a win season – was a bit magical. Was it my greatest achievement? I don’t know. There’s a famous quote from Joe Mercer: “Distance lends enchantment.” The further back things are, the more magical they seem.
Sometimes, your greatest achievement is keeping Fulham up, or keeping West Brom up. You don’t win prizes for that, or get a trophy on your CV…but when (for example) you’re winning the Bundesliga with the current Bayern Munich team, is that as great an achievement as – say – keeping Burnley in the Premier League? It’s very difficult to assess these things. I have a lot of achievements I’m extremely proud of. Halmstad was the first one, so I suppose that will be the most magical.
The Malmo years (from 1985 to 1989) were very successful. (Malmo were league champions in each of Hodgson’s five seasons). There were quite a few opportunities to move on, but the reason we stayed so long towards the end, was because our son was finishing his education. We waited until he was 18 – when he was university-bound, suddenly I became a bit freer. When I got the chance to go to Switzerland (Hodgson took over Neuchatel Xamax in 1990) I didn’t think too much about it. I love Sweden, I love Malmo, and I love the life there. But the offer from Switzerland was very interesting. I was excited to take it, and luckily it turned out to be a good move for me.
Should more English players move abroad? It wouldn’t hurt them. But most of our players, although they might not play regularly, they play for very good teams at a very high level. For them to move, it’s going to take a pretty good club to take them away – or even afford them. The players command very high transfer fees and salaries, which not every country is prepared to pay. But if you’re asking, would it be better for some of our players to play regularly for a good team abroad, rather than warm the bench here, then of course. As a national team manager, I’d like to see that.
Even as recently as five years ago – certainly ten years ago – it would be unthinkable for any England national team manager to pick a player who wasn’t the first name on his club’s teamsheet. Now we pick players – more than half probably – who start with us, and are certainly not the first name on their club’s teamsheet. They might not even get a regular game. But that’s where we are, because the clubs have a predominance of foreign players, and because they can afford it. They can get the best players outside of Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. And basically speaking, there aren’t many clubs who can tempt away English players.
When I was in Sweden, a lot of English players used to come out to play. The Swedish season was different to the English season – we started in April and finished in late October – and players used to come out through the summer, to get experience. Good players, too: Teddy Sheringham for example (Djugardens, 1985), Vinnie Jones (IFK Holmsund, 1986), Alan Cork (Orebro, 1983), Dennis Wise (Grebbestads, 1985)…good players who went on to have very big careers. That doesn’t happen anymore, because Scandinavian football doesn’t have the capacity to attract those players.
Was it difficult telling my wife, when I got my first job abroad in 1976? I don’t remember it being difficult! She did remarkably well, and she’s done remarkably well ever since. If you ask her, I think she’ll say she doesn’t regret it. We’ve had wonderful experiences in all of the countries, met a lot of very interesting people along the way, and have widened our own horizons. If we’re stayed in a furrow in England and had a 40-year career here – which would be difficult to have at the top level, the way things are today – I don’t think she’d have said that would be preferable.
The wandering lifestyle has its advantages, and its disadvantages. Like everything else in life, you have to weigh things up. But if you ask me, would it have been better to have been like Alex Ferguson, to have spent life at one club, if I’d been lucky enough to do that? I’m not certain I’d say “yes, I would have preferred that”. And I’m not certain Alex would have preferred my lifestyle! I think we’re probably both quite happy with what we’ve had.
Interview by @owenamos. There are 23 other interviews with British and Irish managers on our website, britishcoachesabroad.com.